by Christine Lagat
MAKUENI, Kenya, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) -- Joyce Matheka's one acre farm located in Makueni County in lower-eastern Kenya was a spectacle to behold on Friday thanks to a lush green foliage that announced a bumper harvest in the near future.
The middle-aged mother of eight defied cynical voices to experiment with a new and improved maize variety that has not only withstood climatic stresses in her locality but also promise higher yields.
Like millions of smallholder farmers in lower eastern parts of Kenya, Matheka has for many years endured the agony of total crop failure occasioned by recurrent droughts.
Her passion for farming never diminished in spite of many false starts linked to climatic vagaries, inability to access quality seeds and limited grasp of proper agronomic practices.
As an early adopter of improved maize varieties developed by international and local research bodies, Matheka was convinced they would herald an end to food insecurity and financial stress that stalked her household for many years.
"The indigenous maize variety that I always planted in this farm could not withstand harsh weather and worsened hunger in my family," Matheka told Xinhua during a field visit at her farm.
"When I started planting the improved varieties after prodding by county agriculture extension officers, the yields improved irrespective of the weather condition," she added.
Matheka is a native of a semi arid county that has historically been associated with famines and abject poverty.
Nevertheless, local and international scientists have devoted immense resources to research on drought resilient crop varieties that could end chronic food insecurity in Makueni and other dry counties.
Matheka's one acre farm is the embodiment of the transformation that improved maize varieties can unleash at the smallholder level where climatic stresses are felt most.
She revealed that she is guaranteed of harvesting six bags of maize in the one acre farm after planting the improved seeds as compared to indigenous ones which only produce less than one bag.
"Since adopting the new and improved seed varieties that are readily available, it has been possible to harvest enough maize to feed my family and sell the surplus to local millers," Matheka told Xinhua.
The International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) and Kenya Agriculture Research and Livestock Organization (KARLO) are behind introduction of new and drought resilient maize varieties in lower eastern Kenyan counties.
Dr Stephen Mugo, the Principal Scientist at CIMMYT said that introduction of improved and drought resilient maize varieties are an imperative in order to cushion Kenyan smallholders from hunger and malnutrition.
"Climate change is here with us hence the need to shift from farming practices that cannot withstand this phenomenon. We require improved seeds that can survive in low moisture environment and produce higher yields at the same time," said Mugo.
The East African nation is among 13 African countries that have been selected for the rollout of an improved seeds project spearheaded by CIMMY to enhance yield in the light of climatic shocks, lethal pests and diseases.
Mugo said that international research bodies have intensified breeding of new maize varieties suited for harsh agro-ecologies in Africa.
"Development of stress tolerant varieties is an ongoing process. Research organizations have partnered with seed companies to make sure that farmers have access to improved varieties," Mugo remarked.
As drought wreak havoc in 23 arid and semi arid Kenyan counties, a growing number of smallholder farmers in Makueni County have been spared the agony thanks to adoption of improved seeds.
Joseph Muli, a 39 year old father of six proved skeptics wrong when he planted the new and drought tolerant maize variety in his half an acre farm.
His farm is currently glowing in lush green foliage of the flowering maize and pigeon peas. Muli planted the drought resilient maize variety in November last year and is assured of a bumper harvest before April.
His surgical application of knowledge acquired from extension workers has transformed a modestly sized farm that is currently synonymous with bumper harvest of key staples.
"Am proud to host delegations of farmers who often troop here to learn how adoption of improved seed varieties is not an option in dry regions," said Muli.
He revealed it has been possible to feed and educate his young offspring without hassles thanks to adoption of maize varieties that have been improved to resist climatic stresses.